Americans are buying more hybrid cars than ever, nearly a half-million in 2013. That’s 3.2 percent of the U.S. passenger-car and light-truck market. The numbers will grow as showrooms fill with a wider range of gas-electric choices. Driving the expansion are federal requirements that automakers nearly double their fleet-wide fuel-economy average to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
Most hybrids cost more to purchase than gas-only counterparts. But hybrids save you money on gas – and their lower tailpipe emissions benefit the environment. The typical hybrid car has a gas engine and a gas tank, one or more electric motors, and a battery pack. There are two types of conventional hybrids, generally referred to as “full hybrids” and “mild hybrids.”
A “full hybrid” can be driven by the gas engine only, by the electric motor only, or both in combination, as onboard computers optimize efficiency. A “mild hybrid’s” electric motor assists the gas engine as needed; it cannot drive on battery power alone. Neither type of conventional hybrid recharges by plugging in to an electrical outlet. Instead, they recover energy otherwise lost during coasting and stopping. Both types do kill the engine when stopped to save fuel, then restart automatically when the brake pedal is released.
This CarPreview.com Buying Guide covers 2014 hybrid cars priced in the affordable range of roughly $21,000-$35,000. In separate Buying Guides, we cover Hybrid SUVs and premium-priced Luxury Hybrids. For our top overall hybrid picks, check out CarPreview’s The Best Hybrid Vehicles of 2014. Plug-in hybrids are covered in our 2014 Electric Vehicle and Plug-in Hybrid Buying Guide. (Base prices in this guide do not include options but do include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee, which averages about $850.)
Here is the CarPreview 2014 Hybrid Car Buying Guide:
2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid
Base-price range: $25,995-$29,280
Fuel-economy rating: 45/40/43 mpg city/highway/combined
Outstanding fuel economy and refined driving make the Ford C-Max Hybrid a compelling alternative to compact crossovers and wagons. Based on the frisky Ford Focus, the compact four-door hatchback combines advanced technology with European-bred styling and road manners. The hybrid drivetrain is the same as found in the larger Fusion hybrid — a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack. Combined, they produce 188 horsepower. Ford has perfected the art of hybrid smoothness so that its barely perceptible if the gas engine is actually on or not. It can operate on electricity only for about two miles at slow speeds and reach 62 mph before the gas engine takes over. The well-made interior is spacious with an elevated seating position that provides a SUV-like view of the road ahead. Interior space is maximized by the tall roof, affording five-passenger seating and 24.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats; 52.6 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded. C-Max is well equipped with standard features with high-tech options such as self parking and a power light gate operated by the wave of one’s foot below the rear bumper. Other than minor transmission gearing changes and tweaks to exterior aerodynamics to improve fuel efficiency, the Ford C-Max Hybrid remains unchanged for 2014.
2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Base-price range: $27,095-$33,425
Fuel-economy rating: 47/47/47 mpg city/highway/combined
European-influenced styling, smooth driving, and superb fuel economy come together in Fords’s 2014 Fusion Hybrid, the number two pick in our Best Hybrid Vehicles of the Year. The Fusion Hybrid doesn’t look like a fuel sipping five-passenger sedan. And in some ways it doesn’t act like one. This family car rides and handles — well — more like one with European roots, which it has. The hybrid drivetrain uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine related to the turbocharged EcoBoost one in the most expensive gas-powered model. But, instead of adding forced induction, it grafts an 88-kilowatt electric motor, an advanced hybrid pack with lithium-ion batteries and an electronic continuously variable transmission (eCVT) to power the front wheels. Total hybrid system output is 188 horsepower, more than adequate for freeway merges and passing. A 17.5-gallon tank lets you drive between 650 and 700 miles between fill ups and, the Fusion Hybrid can accelerate to 62 mph without using any fuel. Inside, the Hybrid has a special electronic instrument cluster with the latest version of Ford’s EcoGuide, which assists drivers in maximizing fuel economy. With the exception of discrete Hybrid badging, it looks like any other Fusion from the outside, so if you want a hybrid that shouts, “I’m green!” buy a Toyota Prius.
2014 Honda Accord Hybrid
Base-price range: $29,945-$35,695
Fuel-economy rating: 50/45/47 mpg city/highway/combined
Honda gives lie to the dire expectations of those who thought environmental correctness came only with sacrifice. With the 2014 Accord Hybrid, we have entered a new world of mainstream motoring. In choosing the Accord as the top pick in our Best Hybrid Vehicles of the Year, we said, “In one fell swoop, Honda leap frogged to the head of the mid-sized sedan mpg ratings, ousting Ford’s Fusion Hybrid and Toyota’s Camry Hybrid, not to mention Kia and Hyundai hybrid models.” The 2014 Accord Hybrid is not the 2005 V-6 Accord Hybrid that favored power over fuel economy. No longer the mild Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system, this Accord Hybrid has an elegantly designed two motor system called Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive ((i-MMD). It is a full hybrid and operates similar to the Chevrolet Volt in using an electric motor to drive the front wheels most of the time, capturing electric power from a gasoline generator, which Honda call the “second” motor. Receiving a clean sheet redesign for model year 2013, the Accord is a model of family car design with exceptional headroom, generous rear seat room, and large side windows letting in lots of light. Its exterior appearance is not the most alluring car in the class but it is not without style. An expressive grille combined with a curvaceous hood and body sides suggest that the adjective handsome applies here. And then there’s that fuel mileage.